I’m reading Michael Porter’s latest Netflix post, and here are some more thoughts to add to the discussion:
We as libraries do free content well (well, paper-based content, anyway). And we also do free web access pretty well (since no one else really does that yet). So we do free stuff well.
But why do 20-somethings like to hang out at Barnes and Noble? Why do they (egad) BUY books [hey - I work at a LIBRARY - I don't buy books]? Why do they PAY GOOD MONEY to rent movies? Why not come to our fine libraries and simply borrow the same things for free?
Could be a number of reasons why not:
- we don’t have the content
- we’re mean/rude/lazy/smell bad
- Our content service is more difficult to use than the other content services
- we don’t provide the right experience
- Hmm… probably more
OK, so let’s talk about those:
1. We don’t have the content: maybe yes, maybe no. The large metropolitan libraries in my area DO provide good content – all the new books and movies, and at least some of the music. We have access to good subscription databases, so we have magazine content covered. I don’t think this one is the problem.
2. We’re mean/rude/lazy/smell bad: This is a possiblity, unfortunately. Barnes & Noble is in the business of selling stuff – if you don’t buy things from them, they disappear. Libraries, on the other hand, get their funding via taxes, endowments, and tuition. In other words, we usually don’t get the whole business plan thing. Sure, we say libraries are all about customer service… but I have definitely walked into local libraries and been ignored – you shouldn’t see too much of that in a successful for-profit business. Thankfully, I don’t think too many of us smell bad…
3. Our content service is more difficult to use than the other content services: Ooh – the OPAC! The OPAC! How about filling out an online library card form, but having to wait for the actual card to arrive in the mail (vs online ordering via Amazon)? How about those “you can’t use your cell phones here” signs? I think that we can be more difficult to use at times.
4. We don’t provide the right experience: Barnes & Noble is a cool place to hang. Coffee shops are cool places to hang. Is your library a cool place to hang?
Looking at the odds above, I suppose I can see why Netflix is popular! It’s quick, it’s easy, the movies come to your door, you don’t get fined a late fee or an overdue fee, etc. Library services need to also be easy, quick, and deliver a great service that people want…